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With Delhomme hurting, the Panthers may start David Carr against the Buccaneers on Sunday as the teams battle for first place in the NFC South.
Delhomme, whose steady play has helped Carolina (2-1) get off to a good start, strained his right elbow in a 27-20 win over Atlanta on Sunday. He was hurt late in the third quarter and was later replaced by Carr, who completed three of four passes for 56 yards to lead the Panthers on two scoring drives that gave Carolina the win.
An MRI showed Delhomme won’t need surgery, but it’s uncertain whether he will be able to start against Tampa Bay (2-1). He missed practice Wednesday.
“I’ll be getting a ton of treatment on it and we’ll go from there,” Delhomme said. “I’ve never had anything like this before, so how long it’s going to last, I don’t know. I usually do OK with treatment and I think my body heals pretty fast.”
Carr, who was chosen No. 1 overall in the 2002 draft and started for five years in Houston, will start if Delhomme can’t play.
Delhomme has been a bright spot for a team that has shown weaknesses despite winning two of its first three games. His 111.9 passer rating is tied for third in the NFL, and he’s completed 64 percent of his passes with eight touchdowns and just one interception.
In eight starts against the Buccaneers, Delhomme has posted a 93.6 passer rating to lead the Panthers to seven wins in those games. He also has a 93.6 rating in the six games he played against Tampa Bay in years when the Bucs finished in the top 10 in defense, with Carolina winning five of those matchups.
After finishing 21st in the NFL in defense last season, the Bucs’ resurgence has them off to a surprising start. Tampa Bay is fifth in the NFL in scoring defense, allowing 12.3 points per game.
Tampa Bay boasted one of the NFL’s stingiest defenses for nearly a decade before slipping last season. The defense is still led by linebacker Derrick Brooks and cornerback Ronde Barber, but has five new starters.
“We’re expecting a lot more from them,” Tampa Bay coach Jon Gruden said. “Nothing’s good enough yet on defense, and we’re going to hold the standards where they belong here. … We’re going to be asking for a lot more.”
The Bucs are also starting to come together on offense, averaging 27.5 points in their last two games. Jeff Garcia has been steady at quarterback, completing 66 percent (43-for-65) of his passes without an interception.
Through three games last season, Chris Simms had already thrown seven interceptions and Tampa Bay was 0-3.
“That’s clearly the winning edge,” Gruden said. “As I said, if you turn the ball over you’re going to have a hard time playing and being successful. That goes for just about every team in the league that I’m aware of.”
Garcia spent much of the second half against the Rams handing off to running backs Carnell “Cadillac” Williams, Michael Pittman and Earnest Graham, and Tampa Bay finished with 182 yards and three touchdowns on the ground.
Williams has been bothered by sore ribs and is averaging 3.5 yards per carry, but Gruden remains committed to him as the featured back.
Williams and the Bucs offense will be facing a Panthers defense that has managed only two sacks and no interceptions. Carolina gave up 442 yards and two touchdowns to Atlanta, which had not scored an offensive TD in its first two games.
Panthers coach John Fox said he’s concerned about the lack of pass rush, but believes its too early to tell if major changes are needed.
“We’ve got a lot of areas to work on,” he said. “I don’t know if disappointed is the right word. We’re 2-1. Could be better, could be worse. That’s about where we are.”
Carolina may be without standout linebacker Dan Morgan, who suffered shoulder, hamstring and ankle injuries against the Falcons. He left the game in the first half with the shoulder problem, returned and then went out again with a leg injury. The Panthers announced Monday that Morgan is suffering from tendinitis, and he sat out Wednesday’s practice.
The Panthers have won seven of their previous eight meetings with the Bucs. In the last matchup, Steve Smith had eight catches for 149 yards and a touchdown to lead Carolina to a 24-10 win on Nov. 13.
Smith has reached 100 yards receiving in each of his last four games against Tampa Bay.
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